New Offensive Connection?

EAST HARTFORD, Conn. – There seems to be several good reasons for Chandler Whitmer and Shakim Phillips to be roommates at the University of Connecticut. And most were on display Saturday during UConn's Blue-White Spring Game at Rentschler Field.

Both are transfers and newcomers to the UConn football team.

Both play skill positions.

One is a quarterback, the other a wide receiver.

And in the search for something positive offensively Saturday, there was the hope that a new dynamic duo was being generated on this sunny April day.

Of course, the UConn coaches won't even hint that is the case until they look over the film and grade everyone. But a majority of observers walked away wondering if Whitmer and Phillips can strengthen their bond in the coming weeks – and return to preseason camp with something special to offer.

Whitmer, the sophomore quarterback who transferred from Butler Community College in Kansas, had the best numbers of the four UConn quarterbacks who took their reps in the game. Whitmer completed 18 of 27 passes for 187 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Five of those completions went to his roomie for 55 yards, including one for a 20-yard gain.

It's possible that No. 10 throwing to No. 8 might become a popular option in the UConn playbook.

"We connected well," said Phillips, who practiced with the Huskies last fall but was ineligible for games because he transferred from Boston College and was required to sit out one season. "We always throw together, whether it's six in the morning or nine at night. We're just together; just working. It's good to have a quarterback as a roommate. You get that connection."

Whitmer prasied Phillips, senior receiver Nick Williams, and other receivers for working extra hard this spring to make his transition to UConn smoother. Williams isn't just lining up in the slot any more, he is being spread throughout the UConn offense and his versatility as a receiver showed as he caught six passes for 87 yards.

But it was the two touchdown passes thrown by Whitmer that gave the White a 14-5 victory before a crowd of 5,500. The Blue jumped out to a 5-0 lead on a 36-yard field goal by Chad Christen and a safety.

But Whitmer hit John Delahunt on a 14-yard TD pass with two seconds left before halftime. And the only scoring in the second half was an 8-yard pass from Whitmer to Sean McQuillan with 4:26 remaining.

"That's what it takes to be great, is just spending the extra time and getting the timing down with those guys," Whitmer said. "It has paid off for us so far."

Phillips was one of the top receivers nationally in the Class of 2010, as well as being one of the top 30 prospects overall. When he transferred to UConn there were questions about what the Huskies would get from the highly touted prospect. And then injuries during spring ball slowed him a bit.

But Whitmer can tell Phillips is happy with the way things are working.

"It's good for both of us, coming in as transfers, getting a fresh start, learning a new system and being able to come out and compete every day," Whitmer said. "He's having a lot of fun. He's been a little hurt but he came out today and did a good job."

Phillips caught one pass for nine yards and returned four kickoffs for 63 yards in four games as a freshman at Boston College in 2010.

"I love Coach [Paul] Pasqualoni and Coach [George] DeLeone," Phillips said. "I just want to say thank you for them bringing me here. I really like it here. I feel it's a better place for me. I feel comfortable and I feel that's helping me on the field. I don't have any worry outside the field, so I love it here."

Phillips said after 15 practices he feels connected to all five quarterbacks who are pursuing the starting position. That's a good thing because Pasqualoni, offensive coordinator DeLeone, and quarterback coach Shane Day all agreed the race remains wide open.

Scott McCummings did not play Saturday because of a toe injury. Incumbent starter Johnny McEntee was 5-for-14 for 38 yards. Freshman Casey Cochran was 4-for-15 with one interception and was sacked three times. Sophomore Michael Nebrich, who had played well in recent weeks, really struggled. He was 5-for-9 for 48 yards with two interceptions and he was sacked five times.

For all the positives Whitmer displayed this day, he did make one big mistake. Throwing a lob pass into the end zone for Williams in the second quarter Whitmer was intercepted by cornerback David Stevenson, a red-shirt freshman who picked off two passes and had 10 tackles.

Whitmer said he got greedy on the play because the corner route had been open earlier and he essentially pre-determined the play.

"I didn't like the throw in the end zone," DeLeone said. "That was ridiculous and I told him that on the sideline. You can't lose the game for us. You don't have to win the game necessarily but you can't lose the game. That was a disappointing play. And Chandler knows better."

Pasqualoni said Whitmer probably wanted that pass back. DeLeone said Whitmer simply should have thrown the ball away.

"He should have thrown it out of bounds; thrown it to the tuba player over there in section 114," DeLeone said. "That's what he should have done."

Day wants a starting quarterback to emerge as soon as possible. DeLeone says the quarterback situation is what it is. Pasqualoni said Whitmer made good decisions and had a productive day. But the Huskies will head into preseason drills still searching for a starter at QB.

"We'll start this whole process again," Pasqualoni said. "They've got a big summer and a big offseason program ahead of them. I'm anxious to see what we get accomplished there."


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